After All These Years, The Godfathers Of Pop Punk Still Got It
By Jeff Feuerhaken
It’s hard to believer that it’s already been 12 years since the last Descendents release, 2004’s Cool To Be You. It’s even harder to believe that it’s been almost 40 years since the Descendents first hit the scene and introduced the world to its uber-influential brand of Southern California pop punk. I remember vividly when I had first gotten introduced to the band back in the mid-90’s. I was playing guitar in a punk rock band called Stench, and our singer insisted we cover “Bikeage” from the Descendents. I instantly fell in love with the song, and rushed out to get a copy of Milo Goes To College, the album that featured the song. What I discovered was that the Descendents weren’t your typical old school punk rock band. For one, they were much more accessible to the average listener. They’re able to craft extremely catchy hooks worthy of pop radio while still maintaining that rough edge that defines the SoCal punk rock sound. Also, the lyrics found in Descendents songs tended to come from a more level headed and articulate perspective than most punk bands (with some satirical exceptions, such as “I Like Food” and “Enjoy”. Like their counterparts Bad Religion, the Descendents have the good fortune of featuring an exceptionally intelligent front man, which is of course, quite atypical within the punk rock community. Throughout their long and storied career, the band has undergone some minor tweaks here and there, but have managed to remain true to their classic pop punk sound, thereby influencing countless other bands. In short, the Descendents are the defacto founders of pop punk music.
The Descendents’ new album, Hypercaffium Spazzinate, is yet another example of how the band continues to maintain relevance well beyond their would-be expiration date. The album’s title, which alludes to the band’s longtime obsession with coffee, captures the spirit of the songs contained on it. They’re short, energetic, with just the right blend of fun and depth for those with somewhat shorter attention spans. A few of the songs, such as the opener “Feel This” and “Human Being”, clock in at around just one minute. But even the relatively longer tracks, such as “Smile” and my personal favorite, ” Spineless And Scarlet Red”, never seem to drag on. The first single off the album, “Victim Of Me” is another quick punk rock number that features a music video of a kickass performance experienced by a surprisingly docile crowd. Interesting. Sonically, the album sounds fantastic, which is all the more impressive since it was produced by Stephen Egerton and Bill Stevenson, the band’s guitarist and drummer, respectively. This should not come as a surprise, however, for those familiar with The Blasting Room, the recording studio in Fort Collins, CO, where Stevenson and Egerton work. This studio, and Stevenson in particular, has produced for such clients as Rise Against, Good Riddance, and Lagwagon, to name a few.
The music contained in Hypercaffium Spazzinate is deceptively simplistic, but there are plenty of moments featuring intricate and seemingly random guitar chords or a brief odd time signature interlude thrown in here and there to spice things up a bit. Egerton’s guitar work is on point, and his tone pristine. Stevenson’s drumming is also solid and well-mixed. Singer (and scientist) Milo Aukerman’s characteristic gravelly-sweet lyrics give the songs that unmistakable Descendents quality. The unsung hero of this band, however, is bassist Karl Alvarez. His bass lines are at times incredibly busy and complicated, but they never seem to detract from the song as a whole, and when you pay attention to them, it adds a whole other layer of complexity to the music. I always knew Alvarez was an exceptional bass player, but on this album his contributions are tremendous. Dude just rips.
Any fan of the Descendents needs to pick up Hypercaffium Spazzinate right away and get rocking. In fact, any fan of punk rock, or pop punk in particular, owes it to these legends to give them their due and recognize where this scene all started. The Descendents don’t need to be putting out albums every couple of years to stay relevant, and that’s just fine. This is a band that does everything themselves, and they do it all their way. And if that’s not punk rock, I don’t know what is.